A Tale of Two Prophets

The old ProphetBible Reference: 1 Kings chapter 13

Heart of the Story: The un-named prophet spoke God’s words but did not completely obey God. The old prophet lied and seduced a true prophet from following God.

Back Story: Under Rehoboam’s reign, the 10 northern Israelite tribes rebelled and created their own nation called Israel or the Northern Kingdom. God established Jeroboam as the first king of Israel. Almost immediately Jeroboam became frightened for the integrity of his borders. He saw Israelites traveling to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple and celebrate the annual feasts. His response was to establish two centers of worship in Israel. One was in the far north near Mount Herman in tribal lands of Dan. The second was at Bethel, about 12 miles north of Jerusalem close to the border of Ephraim but within tribal lands of Benjamin.

At both centers, King Jeroboam set up golden calves and told the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 NIV). Jeroboam appointed priests to make sacrifices to the golden calves; however, often the priests were not from the tribe of Levi. King Jeroboam established an annual festival to the gods on the 15th day of the eighth month (Bul or Marcheshvan, equivalent to September-October).

Story Line: The name of the prophet from Judah who spoke out against the shrine and altar at Bethel is not given. In the New International Version Study Bible, the chapter is titled simply, “The Man of God from Judah.” Carefully, the writer of Kings recorded that the man (prophet) came from Judah to Bethel by the word of God. Exactly how the word of God appeared to the un-named prophet is not recorded; however, God told the prophet two things: a) don’t eat bread or drink water in Israel and b) don’t return from Israel the same way that you went there.

When the un-named prophet arrived at Bethel, King Jeroboam was there. The king was on the altar making sacrifices to the golden calf gods. The un-named prophet cried out: “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you’ “ (1 Kings 13:2 NIV).

The prophet declared that as a sign from God, the altar would by split apart and the ashes poured out.

When King Jeroboam heard what the un-named prophet said, he stretched forth his hand and ordered his men to seize the prophet. Immediately, the king’s hand shriveled up so that he could not pull it back. Further, the altar split apart and its ashes pour out validating the prophet’s declared sign from God.

King Jeroboam was devastated by the sight of his hand. He asked the un-named prophet to intercede for him so God would restore his hand. After the prophet prayed that God would restore the King’s hand, it became as it was before the king stretched it out and ordered the prophet seized. As a thank you to the un-named prophet, King Jeroboam asked him prophet to come home with him to share a meal; also. Jeroboam wanted to give the prophet a gift. The prophet refused, declaring God’s command that he neither eat nor drink in Israel. Then, the prophet left and began to travel home a different way from his going to Israel.

If the story ended at this point, the un-named prophet would have successfully enacted God’s commission. Unfortunately, there is a second part to the story.

An old prophet lived in Bethel. When he heard what the un-named prophet from Judah did at Bethel, he went after him. He found the un-named prophet sitting under a tree. The old prophet asked the un-named prophet to come home and eat with him. The un-named prophet declined, referring to God’s command to eat or drink nothing in Israel. The old prophet persisted, identifying himself as a prophet like the un-named prophet. He averred that God’s word came to him via an angel and directed the old prophet to bring the un-named prophet home. With these words, the old prophet lied to the un-named prophet; however, the un-named prophet believed him and went to his home near Bethel.

As the two men were eating, the word of God came to the old prophet. He cried out, that the un-named prophet defied the Lord when he came back to Bethel and ate and drank. Consequently, the un-named prophet’s body would not be buried in the tomb of his fathers.

As the un-named prophet returned home to Judah, a lion killed him on the road. The old false prophet retrieved the un-named prophet’s body and laid it in his own tomb. The old prophet ordered his sons to place his body beside the un-named prophet when he died.

Analysis of the Relationships: Notice, Jeroboam didn’t order his own priests at Bethel to pray to their gods to heal his hand. Rather, he requested to un-known prophet to intercede for him to God. Despite acknowledging God was superior to his own god, Jeroboam didn’t remove the shrine at Bethel. Hundreds of years later after the Northern Kingdom fell, King Josiah of Judah, destroyed the Bethel shrine site.

The unknown prophet was a true prophet of God. He did God’s will by traveling to Bethel and prophesying against the false gods there. He even did God’s will when refusing to eat with King Jeroboam. His fault was being seduced by the lies of a false (old) prophet. The question is why did the un-named prophet accept the old prophet’s invitation after having the strength to turn the king’s invitation down?

Conceivably, the two prophets knew each other, at least by reputation. The community of prophets was small in Judah and Israel. At one time the old prophet may have been a true prophet of God; but, somewhere he fell so far from righteous behavior that he implicated God’s name in a lie. Perhaps, the un-named prophet truly believed that God gave the old prophet a message that contradicted the one God gave to him.

Another factor in the un-named prophet going home with the old false prophet was that he was hungry and thirsty. The Bible doesn’t give information about how far his home was from Bethel. Perhaps, he traveled a full day to get to Bethel, spent a day prophesying there, and had another day’s travel to reach his home. Clearly, he was tired – the false prophet found him sitting under a tree. Tired, hungry, and thirsty, the un-named prophet took the path that led to his comfort, while disregarding God’s direct commandments to him.

Conclusion: When I read that the old prophet retrieved the body of the un-named prophet, buried him in his own tomb, and mourned him, I was not appeased by the restitution the old prophet made. True, the un-named prophet was culpable in going home with him and disobeying God’s direct words; however, the old false prophet’s deliberate lied evoked the un-named prophet’s behavior.

Copyright: March 3, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth. All rights reserved.

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